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By Randy York
Bill Ziegler is one of those lifelong Nebraska football fans whose experiences are few but passions are strong. He was born in Grand Island and moved to Pennsylvania at age 6. Growing up, he bled Big Red living in the land of Penn State blue. His roots were so deep, he enrolled at Nebraska in 1994 and saw his first-ever Nebraska game when UCLA visited Memorial Stadium. The College GameDay crew was there, and Ziegler never will forget the buzz for that first home game of the season after NU’s lopsided road wins over West Virginia and Texas Tech. Nebraska unveiled its new jumbo screens for the UCLA game and somehow Ziegler ended up on those screens as a college freshman. Nebraska ran over the Bruins, 49-21 that day with junior Tommie Frazier directing an attack that produced 484 rushing yards. Ziegler’s personal highlight was getting an autograph from ESPN’s Chris Fowler. “To this day, he’s the only Colorado grad I’ve ever truly liked,” Ziegler said.
As fond as that home-opener was for him in 1994, Ziegler has another GameDay memory from that same season – third-ranked Nebraska’s 24-7 triumph over second-ranked Colorado in an early kickoff on Oct. 29. Ziegler remembers joining some friends down the walkway under the South end zone stands midway through the fourth quarter of that game and seeing Craig “The Pony” James. “I asked him: ‘What do you think of the Huskers now?’” Ziegler said. “He was polite and answered: ‘You guys are pretty good.’” Shortly thereafter, Ziegler joined Husker fans carrying and riding part of the South end zone goalpost out of the stadium. He remembers those fans moving right past the GameDay set and on to downtown Lincoln where the celebration continued.
The unbeaten ‘94 Huskers were Tom Osborne’s first of three national championship teams, and that season ended so memorably historic, “I figured my job was done in Lincoln, so I went back home,” Ziegler said. “In all seriousness, I was a little homesick and had the opportunity to play football at the D-II level at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. That’s where I graduated from, and, yes, we were a school that played Slippery Rock every year.” Today, Ziegler is a social studies teacher at Manheim Township Middle School in Lancaster, Pa., and he remains a staunch Nebraska fan. “Since graduating, I’ve been mostly to away games,” he said. “I saw Nebraska play at Penn State 10 years ago and then saw ‘em again this past fall in State College. That was surreal. PSU fans were actually nice this time around.” Ziegler says he “loves” how Coach Osborne and Chancellor Harvey Perlman helped Nebraska get invited into the Big Ten, and he’s “looking forward” to attending this year’s game at Ohio State.
In the meantime, when the N-Sider asked Husker fans for their fondest ESPN GameDay memories in light of a fan voting contest that could send the Fowler-led crew to the campus of the winning school sometime this summer, Ziegler couldn’t resist turning the clock back 18 years and letting Husker fans know why he sees one of CU’s most visible grads as a good sport. And I happen to agree with him. Fowler, a Denver native, is one of the most respected hosts and commentators on network television. He’s worked his way up through the ranks before spending the last quarter century at ESPN. Before he hit the big time, Fowler was a sports director at CU’s campus radio station. He was a high school sports writer for the Rocky Mountain News and an intern for Denver’s CBS affiliate. So he knows all about hard work, and frankly, I think that’s one reason why he respects Nebraska.
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Voices from Husker Nation
I just read your story about Bill Ziegler and really enjoyed it. I’ve never been to Lincoln and never seen a college football game live, but I’ve been a Husker ‘fan’ for several years now (mostly because of my relatives in the northwest corner of Nebraska). Only in the last few years have I gotten more serious about following the team and learning more about the history/tradition of the Huskers. Stories like this one really help give a feel for the team and the fans – so thank you for that. I also am particularly excited about this upcoming season, as my wife just showed me our anniversary present: plane tickets to Lincoln to watch the Sept. 15 game versus Arkansas State! I could not be more pumped about the trip! Now, I have a new reason to lurk on some of the Husker sites – I need to find out the best things to do, so I make the most of the experience. I would appreciate any suggestions your readers might have. Sincerely yours, Garry Oakes, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, GBR!!
You're absolutely right about Chris Fowler - he's a class act all the way. I was in the pep band that played at Misty's in 1994, and the GameDay crew came in just as we were getting ready to play our first set the weekend for the Colorado game. They appeared to enjoy the music, and when I told Chris how much I enjoyed his work on the show, he very politely thanked me and thanked the band for the music as well. Thanks for your stories - I always enjoy them! Best wishes, Scott Johnson, UN-L '98
When Nebraska and Colorado became a "rivalry" that tried to replace the NU-OU football rivalry, it never quite took off because Big Red fans just couldn't get into a series that was so lopsided. It was like comparing a humongous orange to a small apple. Unfortunately, whenever Fowler would "slight" Nebraska in any way, some of our fringe fans took it personally. The rest of us, like you, enjoyed his professional coverage, and I hope he comes back to Lincoln this summer to film a GameDay video personally. Husker fans would enjoy that. We might even applaud an old "rival" Buff. Thanks for the blog. Jerry Smith, Des Moines, Iowa